NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Can you spell B-R-A-N-D I-N-T-E-G-R-A-T-I-O-N? That's what Geico will be teaching sports fans this Saturday with TNT's first sponsored game of Horse during its two-hour presentation of "Inside the NBA presented by Hyundai."
The insurance marketer will be renaming the classic shoot-out game, Horse, as G-E-I-C-O for Saturday's pre-game telecast as part of TNT's NBA All-Star coverage, during which three NBA players will compete against each other to see who can score the most hoops in the name of integrated marketing -- no dunking allowed.
John Diament, Turner Sports exec VP-ad sales and marketing, said the familiarity of Horse to the average basketball fan made it an ideal sell for a well-known, five-lettered brand like Geico. "Geico is an advertiser trying to reach that hard-to-find young demographic, and they're positioned to stand out from their competitors by providing a branded experience for those fans," he said.
The integrated buy was one of many executed by Geico's media agency, Horizon Media, which has featured the company's famous cavemen prominently on ESPN's "SportsCenter" and an eponymous sitcom on ABC.
David Campanelli, Horizon's VP-director of national television, said Geico has sponsored TNT's NBA coverage for several years now and had been looking to a deeper integration to expand its branding efforts. "Any basketball purist knows what HORSE is and we've been clamoring to be in the All-Star Game for a long time. The fact they're adding it with the brand of Geico is really exciting for us," he said.
The NBA audience has been growing too, with TNT's season-to-date ratings up 7% in total viewers and up 12% among men 18 to 34. Turner Sports also recently inherited ad sales for NBA.com and the relaunched NBA TV, the basketball association's dedicated cable network in 19 million homes. Turner's presenting NBA sponsors, AutoTrader.com, Southwest Airlines, T-Mobile, Hyundai and State Farm Insurance, have all bought ad time on all three Turner Sports properties this season.
Mr. Diament said fast-food, beer, gaming and movie marketers have all increased their spending on NBA coverage this season, a sign that live sports are still one of the few destinations for marketers and audiences alike. "In a weird way, the economy didn't have a dramatic effect. A lot of these are categories that thrive in challenging times," he said.